There's no worse feeling for a PC user than realizing something important was just deleted -- whether accidentally, from a hard-drive crash, virus, or power surge.

Not only can it be a frustrating inconvenience, but the problem is magnified considerably when the data kept on the computer is essential for running a business. This can impact the business, its partners, and its customers.

The only protection against losing critical information on your business PCs is to back up important files on a regular basis. Some mid-size businesses are already backing up computer servers regularly. But some of the most critical business information oftentimes resides on individual PCs. Businesses that have many remote workers or businesses that don't have servers may want to also consider PC backup. Backup at the PC level can be handled in a number of ways, such as using an external hard-drive or server, using a tape-based backup system, or taking a leap of faith and hoping that employees are backing up important files using portable USB memory sticks or CDs or DVDs.

For some businesses, however, those options are no longer good enough. Uploading files to an online backup company has become one of the increasingly popular solutions for small and mid-size businesses as costs have come down, the number of vendors increases as traditional offline storage firms such as EMC get into the act, and the risks of not backing up -- or trusting employees to do it -- are too great to the business.

Benefits of online backup

One of the biggest reasons to backup online is for disaster prevention. “Local backup solutions are prone to natural disasters such as floods, fires and hurricanes,” explains Vance Checketts, director of business operations at Berkeley Data Systems, a Salt Lake City-based online storage company best known for its Mozy services, which was recently acquired by EMC. “But more importantly, online backup solutions reduce the risk of human error because a professional, third-party organization is hard at work protecting your backed-up data.”

For businesses, MozyPro pricing costs $3.95 per PC per month plus $0.50 cents per gigabyte per month.

“The key advantage is your data is kept offsite -- so your data is protected even if you’re having a problem at your office,” says Richard Shim, research manager for personal computing at IDC, the Framingham, Mass. technology research firm. After all, it was only in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina decimated much of the north-central Gulf Coast, causing more than 1,800 deaths and more than $80 billion dollars in damage. “Offsite storage translates to easy access -- anytime and anywhere -- so you’ll always have access to it,” adds Shim.

Often considered an “insurance policy” for your critical work information, online backup solutions can also be automated so important files or folders are automatically backed up -- after the workday ends, say, at 2 a.m. every night -- therefore the employee doesn’t have to remember to do so manually.

Price and other challenges 

“The primary challenge with online backup is finding a solution that does backup well at a cost-effective price,” says Checketts. “Too many solutions are focused on online storage, which is quite different from backup, as [the former] is simply a cyber-locker without task-appropriate automation or encryption.” He says that businesses need a backup system that is automatic, secure, and cost effective.

The cost for backup and storage is one of the key obstacles to more wide-spread adoption of the technology, says Shim. Many small and mid-size businesses are constantly watching the bottom line and decide to forego the expense for an ongoing backup system. In addition, traditional methods of backup, such as USB drives or CDs are so inexpensive. A 500GB external hard drive can be found for less than $100 these days, which is a one-time fee, compared to an ongoing monthly payment. “Cost can be an issue for a small business since you have to pay for monthly maintenance fees, to secure and manage this data,” explains Shim.

Small businesses also have to grapple with the question of whether they want company information, e-mails, and spreadsheets to be in third-party hands -- even if those third parties are trusted sources. Depending on how sensitive that data is, there could be a security issue,” says Shim. “You give up a certain amount of security by making it more accessible online, trusting it in the hands of another company.”

Mozy’s backup solutions, however, claim 128-bit SSL encryption to safely secure customer data during transport and 448-bit Blowfish encryption to secure the data on Berkeley Data Systems' servers.

Deciding factors

Small and mid-size businesses need to consider a number of factors before taking the plunge into online backup:

  • Do they have the resources for another monthly service fee?
  • Are enough security controls in place at the online backup vendor to ensure that sensitive business data will not fall into the wrong hands?
  • Will employees remember to backup important files each night on USB drives or CDs?
  • What would happen to the business if a disaster struck -- a fire, earthquake, hurricane, flood or other event -- that destroyed business computers and all the business data stored on their hard-drives?


While not for every business, online backup solutions need to be considered by data-dependent businesses that could be wiped out in the event of a manmade or natural disaster. Not all small and mid-size businesses have the resources to spring for a disaster recovery backup site. The ease with which critical information and files can be downloaded onto a new computer is also a factor to help in the event of a computer crash or a hard-drive meltdown. The costs of trying to recover files in man hours alone probably would exceed a year of monthly fees for online backup. In addition, a recent Forrester Research survey found that when businesses left it to employees to backup important files, companies often had no way of verifying that backup copies were made. Automating the process of backing up data takes one additional risk out of running a business that is heavily dependent on electronic data.

SIDEBAR: Online PC Backup Vendors

Here are several vendors that provide online backup services targeted at the small and mid-size business sector:

EVault -- A wholly-owned subsidiary of Seagate Technology, the disc-drive manufacturer, offersEvault Desktop, an online backup service for protecting laptops and PCs. The company deploys such security protections as data encryption and state-of-the-art data centers. A Web-based management console can let your business monitor workflow and allow for flexibility to schedule times backups or additional runs.

Iron Mountain -- The records management and data storage company now also offers digital products, including an online PC backup product for small and mid-size businesses. The product allows a business to protect between five and 100 PCs with convenient, consolidated billing. Iron Mountain is a recognized name in data storage and boasts that businesses can "rest assured that their data is protected."

Berkley Data Systems (EMC) -- This company's MozyPro online PC backup has received several publishers' awards. Now that this company is part of EMC, customers may be more satisfied with a big-name behind the start-up. The product offers automatic or scheduled backup, bandwidth-saving features so it won't interfere with other business processes, and an interface designed with the "non-tech-savvy" user in mind so that it's easy to use.